Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness for people over the age of 50. Worldwide 60 million people suffer from AMD, including close to 2 million in the United States alone. Another 7.3 million Americans are currently at significant risk of losing their vision from AMD.
AMD is typically a gradual disease, and the condition may progress so slowly in some cases that you don’t notice your vision worsening until it’s too late. Ultimately, AMD can destroy your central vision, which is necessary for reading, driving and other daily functions. It’s also the leading cause of permanent impairment of close-up vision in those aged 65 and older.
However, your eyesight does not have to worsen with age, and research is showing that one of the best ways to protect your vision and ward off AMD is simply by getting plenty of animal-based omega-3s.
Omega-3 Fats Protect Your Eyes from AMD
Your retina is about the size of a postage stamp and your macula only about the size of a pencil tip.
Located in the macula — in the center of your retina — are your cone cells, which produce color vision, and are used for reading and fine central vision. Your rod cells, which are in the periphery of your retina, are used for night vision and side vision.
When your cones begin to degenerate, the result is macular degeneration and loss of your central vision. As AMD progresses, tiny, fragile blood vessels begin to develop in the retina. These vessels often leak blood and fluid that damages the retina even further.
Omega-3 fats may help protect and promote healthy retinal function. One type, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), is concentrated in your eye’s retina and has been found to be particularly useful in preventing AMD. Further, inflammation is likely involved in AMD progression, and omega-3 fats have anti-inflammatory effects.
As the latest study showed, those who had the highest intake of animal-based omega-3 fats had a 60 percent lower risk of advanced AMD compared to those who consumed the least. A 2009 study also found that those with the highest consumption of omega-3 fats were 30 percent less likely to progress to the advanced form of the disease over a 12-year period.
Adding further support for omega-3 fats, another 2009 study showed that participants with diets high in omega-3 fats, along with vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, lutein and zeaxanthin, had a lower risk of AMD as well.
Is Your Diet Helping to Prevent AMD?
Eating a healthy diet is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of AMD. What should that diet entail?
First, make sure you have a high-quality source of animal-based omega-3 fats.
Ideally you would receive all the animal-based omega-3s you’d need from eating seafood. Unfortunately, industrial pollution has contaminated most of the world’s waters, and the seafood it contains, with a variety of dangerous toxins like mercury and PCBs.
This leaves purified fish oil supplements and another marine oil, krill oil, as alternatives. Although I still recommend fish oil in some cases, I believe krill oil is the best option for most people, for several reasons.
Krill oil, like fish oil, contains omega-3 fats such as EPA and DHA. However, in fish oil these omega-3 fats are found in a triglyceride molecule that has to be broken down in your gut into its base fatty acids EPA and DHA.
Because of this, about 80-85 percent of it is never absorbed and instead is eliminated in your intestine. This is what causes about 50 percent of people to “burp up” the fish oil taste and not tolerate fish oil well at all.
Once the fatty acids are absorbed into your bloodstream your liver then has to attach it to phoshphatidyl choline molecule for it to be used by your body. The amazing beauty of krill oil is that they come right out of the bottle in the form your body can immediately use, phospholipid structure. Your body doesn’t process it at all and uses virtually 100 percent of the DHA and EPA.
Unpublished new data suggests krill oil is actually absorbed 10-15 times better than fish oil.
Additionally, krill oil has the powerful antioxidant astaxanthin, which prevents the perishable DHA and EPA from going rancid. The vast majority of fish oil being sold is actually rancid before you even open the bottle, as it doesn’t contain this protective antioxidant, which prevents the DHA and EPA from oxidizing.
Perhaps even more importantly, astaxanthin is emerging as an incredibly powerful eye antioxidant — so much so that it deserves to be mentioned in its own right.
Astaxanthin: Most Powerful Antioxidant Ever Discovered for Eye Health
Scientists have studied lutein, zeaxanthin, canthaxanthin, and astaxanthin for their respective abilities to protect the retina. But none function to the degree that astaxanthin does, in terms of potency as a free radical scavenger and/or permeability across your blood-brain-retina barrier.
Dr. Mark Tso of the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins University (considered by most professionals to be the most prestigious ophthalmology training center in the world) has clearly demonstrated that astaxanthin is the clear winner when it comes to protecting your eyes. He discovered that astaxanthin easily crosses into the tissues of the eye and exerts its effects safely and with more potency than any of the other carotenoids, without adverse reactions.
Specifically, Tso determined astaxanthin could improve or prevent light-induced damage, photoreceptor cell damage, ganglion cell damage, and damage to the neurons of the inner retinal layers.
He concluded that astaxanthin supplementation could be effective in preventing or treating a whole host of eye diseases, including:
- Age-related macular degeneration
- Diabetic neuropathy
- Cystoid macular edema
- Central retinal arterial and venous occlusion
- Inflammatory eye diseases (i.e., retinitis, iritis, keratitis, scleritis, etc.)
Remember, krill oil naturally contains astaxanthin, but if you are going to give astaxanthin a try, I recommend starting with 2 mg per day. If you are on a krill oil supplement, take that into consideration — different krill products have different concentrations of astaxanthin, so check your label.
Other Important Foods for Your Eye Health
Along with taking high-quality animal-based omega-3 fats, following my dietary recommendations, based on your nutritional type, is one of your best ways to help prevent AMD, in part because it will automatically limit or eliminate your intake of grains and sugars, which have been linked to this leading cause of blindness.
It will also help you to increase your intake of vegetables, and people who eat large amounts of vegetables and fruits have a 43 percent risk reduction of age-related macular degeneration.
Finally, you’ll want to be sure you’re getting plenty of lutein and zeaxanthin, two nutrients found in eggs, spinach, and other leafy green vegetables. Keep in mind, though, that once you heat spinach or eggs the lutein and zeaxanthin become damaged — and they will not perform as well in preventing degeneration of your macula.
So one of the absolute best ways to take advantage of these powerhouse nutrients is by eating RAW egg yolks. There is about 0.25 mg each of lutein and zeaxanthin in one egg yolk, and it’s in a highly absorbable, nearly ideal, form.
Together, a fresh varied diet with plenty of raw vegetables, egg yolks and animal-based omega-3 fats will go a long way toward keeping your vision sharp well into your 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond.
New York Times bestselling author Dr. Mercola graduated from the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1982. And while osteopaths or D.O.s are licensed to prescribe medication and perform surgery just like medical doctors (M.D.s), they bring something extra to the practice of medicine.
Osteopathic physicians practice a "whole person" approach to medicine, treating the entire person — rather than just the symptoms. Focusing on preventive health care, D.O.s help patients develop attitudes and lifestyles that don't just fight illness, but help prevent it too.
Dr. Mercola is passionate about natural medicine and strongly believes that the current medical system is largely manipulated and controlled by large corporations whose primary focus is profit. His website, Mercola.com, which started as a small hobby interest in 1997, has now grown to today’s number one natural health website educating and empowering millions to take back the control over their own health.
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